• Annette Nilsson

Failure, Mistakes and giving up

Why is there such a stigma around failure and mistakes when they are an essential part of our human existence? No matter how hard we try, we will fail and we will make mistakes, so we might as well relax and find ways to deal with the inevitable.


Is there a difference between failure and mistakes? How can we have a more positive way to look at our constant efforts of trying and failing?


In my view, a mistake is the result of a one-off action which with hindsight was wrong, your action did not produce the expected result


Failure is not the result of one action, it can be the result of a longer process, a relationship, an education, a career choice. Where mistakes show themselves for what they are quite immediately, failure might take some time to out itself. Usually, we attach failure to things we consider important, and these are often relationships. Because of the importance, we do not say: it was a mistake that I married you or that I took this job, or that I became your friend.


We keep on trying until we have collected enough evidence that no matter how hard we tried, we have to accept the failure of our endeavour. Initially, admitting failure and accepting that things did not work out despite of our trying cause pain and misery. But if we accept that failure is an essential part of life and that there will be new chances, new opportunities, new partners, the misery of failure might feel less heavy after some time.


If we manage to combine the ongoing trial which is life with curiousity, then we might learn something. Sciences progress in this way: before we can celebrate a scientific breakthrough, hundreds if not thousands of experiments have been conducted and failed. Scientists are curious, and therefore, they keep on trying. Frustration and despair are part of this process.


Giving up or ending something is again different. It involves learning but is usually about ending something, either a bad habit, an unhappy relationship or changing career. Giving up is an active process, it is a choice. But we can only make choices if we are not afraid of making mistakes because each choice means giving up something else, like you cannot keep the cake and eat it, sort of.


If we are afraid though of making mistakes, we deprive ourselves of the chance to develop the resilience of living with the fact that we make mistakes as an inevitable part of human existence, and even worse, we suffocate our curiousity. We leave in fear of consequences instead celebrating our curiousity, and the opportunities which might arise.


Not every mistake or failure lends itself for learning. Maybe it is enough to learn that it was a mistake, we ask for forgiveness to those who got affected by them, and forgive ourselves for being imperfect and fallible human beings.


To live with major mistakes and failure is a challenge, tough and seriously impacts how we think about ourselves. Still, we need to accept them as a part of our human condition. Forgiveness is the only way to find peace, if we remain in the loop of guilt and shame, fear will dominate our actions, and our lives. Try and forgive yourself, don’t give up your curiosity and keep on trying!


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